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Organizational Governance of Activation Policy: Transparency as Organizational Ideal in the Everyday Life of a Welfare Agency
University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.
University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Education and Sociology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2017 (English)In: New Horizons of European Social Policy: Risks, Opportunities and Challenges, 2017Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

A critical task of sickness insurance policy in most Western welfare states during recent decades has been to reduce the economic burden on society due to sick leave, by stimulating and enforcing labour market participation. In Sweden, strong activation requirements have been implemented in the health insurance in the past decades. Currently, this orientation is reflected in the politically set objective to reduce the sickness absence rate in Sweden; the center-left government in 2016 stated that “the sickness benefit rate may not exceed 9.0 days per individual and per year in 2020”. Furthermore, it was stressed that “newly granted disability pension shall not exceed 18 000 per year during the period 2016-2020”. In achieving these targets, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (SSIA) and their frontline staff have a key role. This paper explores the organizational mediation of ’welfare to work’ policy by investigating the organizational governance and modes of operating set in place in local SSIA offices in order to fulfill the political objectives and reach these targets. More specifically, the paper focuses on one dimension of the local governance of ’welfare to work’ policy, namely the role that transparency plays in the alignment of frontline staff with the normative regime of the agency as well as its effects on caseworker subjectivity.  

The paper is based on an ethnographic study consisting of participant observations (mainly at work meetings with caseworkers, managers and insurance physicians/specialists) and qualitative interviews in the SSIA head office as well as five local offices. In total 57 interviews have been conducted and 37 meetings observed during 2015-17. Inspired by institutional ethnography (D. Smith) as well as ethnomethodology, the paper conceives of institutional settings as creating specific environments for the management of responsibility and accountability. Transparency is here key.

The paper shows how the transparency ideal is an integral part of the organizational governance in the agency, and implemented through tools, technologies, infrastructures, teamwork, and socio-spatial governance. The analysis reveals how the transparency ideal penetrates the organizational life in a much more pervasive way than is usually acknowledged in the ’audit society’-literature (following Power 1997), colouring not only case management but also the relations between colleagues and between management and staff. As an internalized ideal, transparency affects caseworker subjectivity, lending the welcoming of audit as a way to self-improvement along with the improvement of organizational performance. However, transparency is much less salient in relation to clients and the outside world. Thus this everyday regime of visibility, as established in social interaction as well as in organizational routines, is at the same time part of an organizational politics of visibility designed to facilitate the organizational performances and the smooth implementation of welfare-to-work policies in the health insurance.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
Keywords [en]
activation, audit culture, case worker, transparency, visibility, welfare bureaucracy
National Category
Sociology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-157010OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-157010DiVA, id: diva2:1317289
Conference
The ESPAnet 2017 Conference “New Horizons of European Social Policy: Risks, Opportunities and Challenges” in Lisbon, Portugal, 14–16 September, 2017
Available from: 2019-05-22 Created: 2019-05-22 Last updated: 2019-06-20Bibliographically approved

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